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Over the past few decades, the internet has become more and more ingrained in daily life — everything from shopping to banking to communicating with family can be handled online. For those who were born into this period, the internet and the many ways you can use it are second nature. For others, these things might feel confusing or difficult to keep up with.
That’s where we come in. We’re here to make life on the internet easier to understand, and to help you stay safe. We’ve created a guide explaining how to set up an internet connection, personalize your internet experience, and more importantly, feel safe while doing so.
Finding Your Internet Provider
First and foremost, you’ll need to set up an internet connection. It’s no secret that internet plans can get expensive. And the process of figuring out which providers are both available and affordable can be a frustrating experience, especially if you’ve had your heart set on a certain provider. Unlike cell phone carriers where you’re free to choose the company, most homes are only served by one or two set internet providers. As a result, you may not have access to the provider you want. Check out our review of the best internet providers to see what providers are available in your zip code.
Fortunately, most major cable and DSL providers offer senior discounts and programs that accommodate low-income households.
- AT&T Access Program
- Price: $5-10/mo.
- Speed: 0.768-10 Mbps
- Must be SNAP
- Must go through the mail to apply
- Frontier Lifeline
- Price: $9.25/mo.
- Speed: Varies
- Participate in a federally-recognized aid program: Federal Public Housing Assistance, SNAP, Income below 135% of the Federal Poverty Guidelines, Medicaid, SSI, etc.
- CenturyLink Lifeline
- Price: $9.25/mo.
- Speed: A minimum of 15 Mbps
- Verizon Lifeline
- Price: $9.25/mo.
- Speed: 18 Mbps
- Spectrum Assist
- Price: $5-15/mo.
- Speed: Up to 30 Mbps
- Must be SSI, CEP, or NSLP recipients
- If SSI, must be 65
- Cox Connect2Compete
- Price: $9.95/mo.
- Speed: Up to 25 Mbps
- Must be SNAP
- Cannot have been a Cox customer in last 90 days
- Comcast/Xfinity Essentials
- Price: $9.95/mo.
- Speed: Up to 15 Mbps
- Must be 62
- Must receive federal or state assistance
Personalize Your Browsing Experience
Once your internet is set up, you can start customizing the features that create an experience that’s right for you and your family. Among some of the most useful features are parental controls and font size. Parental controls act as a preventative tool, protecting you and your family from the darker ends of the internet.
Most providers now have parental controls built-in to their routers making the installation process, while the technician is present, which is the best time to activate this feature. If you happen to miss this window, most providers give you the ability to activate this feature online in your internet account settings. If all else fails, we recommend reaching out to your provider for assistance.
Adjusting font size
Font size serves as an aiding tool, giving you the ability to increase painstakingly small text. This is especially useful if you’re planning on doing a lot of online reading and researching.
Shortcut functions: To increase font size, hold down Ctrl (for Windows) or Command (for Mac) and tap the Plus (+) key. If you’re looking to decrease, hold down Ctrl or Command and tap the Minus (-) key. Otherwise, here’s how to adjust font size in different browsers:
- Chrome: In the upper corner of your screen, click on Chrome and you should see an option called Preferences. This will take you to Settings where you’ll find Appearance. Under Appearance, you should see Font Size and Page Zoom.
- Safari: In the upper corner of your screen, click on Safari and you should see an option called Preferences. After you open Preferences, look for a tab called Advanced. Once you click on this, you should see an Accessibility option that allows you to adjust the default font size.
- Internet Explorer: In the upper corner of your screen, click Tools and select Internet Options. In this window, located at the bottom of the General tab, you should see Fonts. In this menu, you’ll be able to adjust the default font size.
Other features we like include the ability to convert text to speech, increase color contrast, and reduce transparency.
Text-to-speech tools are primarily intended for disabled users, but they’re also a great feature if you have difficulty reading text, or if your eyes tire quickly from computer screens.
- Mac users:Go to System Preferences and click on Accessibility. In this menu, you should see Speech. There should be an unchecked box next to “Speak selected text when the key is pressed.” After you check this box, highlight any text and hold down Option + Esc.
- Windows users: Go to Settings and click on Ease of Access. In this menu, click Use Narrator.
High contrast colors and transparency
Another way to improve your reading experience is through contrast and transparency settings. Some websites use low-contrast colors and various shades in text in an effort to make their page more appealing. The by-product is a minimalist design that ultimately makes for a more difficult read, sometimes even leading to eye strain. Adjusting these settings gives you the ability to experience a website in a way that’s most readable for you.
Shortcut functions: For Mac users, hold down Control + Option + Command + Period (.) to increase contrast. For Windows users, hold down left Alt + left Shift + Print Screen to turn high contrast on or off.
- Mac users: Go to System Preferences and click on Accessibility. In this menu, you should see Display. There should be unchecked boxes next to “Increase contrast” and “Reduce transparency,” as well as a slider to manually adjust “Display contrast.”
- Windows users: Go to Settings and click on Ease of Access. In this menu, click High contrast. To reduce transparency, go to Settings and click on Personalization. Select Colors from the sidebar. Scroll down and you should see “Transparency effects” under More options.
Ways to Keep Yourself Safe Online
Whether you’re banking online, shopping, or scrolling through social media feeds, everything you do online comes with some level of risk. While it may be impossible to fully eliminate online threats, there are plenty of ways to reduce them. The first thing we recommend is downloading antivirus software. This software will act as your first line of defense by detecting and removing viruses, and other unsolicited malware. This type of protection can be costly as most premium programs range between $20-$100, but it’s absolutely worth it for the safety of your computer. Beyond antivirus software, all you can do is practice safe internet habits:
- Create unique passwords
- Your passwords should be at least eight characters and should include symbols and numbers
- We also recommend writing your passwords down in a designated notebook.
- Use social media privacy settings
- Many seniors use social media as a means to connect with family members and friends. While social media is great for these reasons, there are plenty of privacy concerns. Fortunately, most sites, like Facebook, have extensive settings that allow you to restrict who can see your posts, photos, and personal information.
- Only shop on secure websites
- If you’re unsure, look at your address bar at the top. Most secure sites have a lock symbol by the website name.
- Avoid giving out sensitive information
- Never give out your SSN online unless you’re absolutely certain it’s a secure website requiring it for legitimate reasons, such as online banking or signing up for a new TV service that requires your social for a credit check.
Lastly, we want to place an emphasis on identifying malicious emails and social media scams as seniors are notoriously targeted. One of the trickiest scams to spot are emails that imitate legitimate companies. If you receive a suspicious email that appears to be from a real company, make sure you look at the sender’s email address. More often than not, you’ll find the address is either unrelated to the company it’s posing as, or features an unusual array of numbers, characters, or symbols around the company name. These features indicate the email is fake. Of course, this isn’t the only way unsolicited emails attempt to fool you.
Cybersecurity expert Shannon Wilkinson provides further context:
“Seniors have faced targeted scams on social media as well with fraudsters posing as grandchildren asking for financial assistance due to accidents or tragedies. The scammers will say that they were traveling, cannot be contacted on the phone, and a slew of other things to give the request an appearance of extreme urgency.”
If you receive an email or message that raises even the slightest alarm, it’s always best practice to delete or simply ignore it. If you’re unsure, a good rule of thumb is if something seems too good — or bad — to be true, it almost always is.
Common Email Scams
- Emails that imitate legitimate companies
- Emails that request urgent action
- Emails stating you owe money
- Emails stating you won something or have a personalized offer waiting
- Emails asking you to fill out a survey
Common Malware Pop-Ups
- Pop-ups that say your computer is infected and/or vulnerable
- Pop-ups that ask or “require” you to install software
- Pop-ups that start with “warning” and request some form of action
Common Internet Problems and How to Fix Them
Before we break down the various ways to troubleshoot your internet connection, we’ll first explain the device that gives you access to it — the router. Every connected device, such as your phone and tablet, requires an IP address in order to access the internet. A router is the device responsible for connecting your devices and assigning these IP addresses. Put simply, your router serves as a bridge to the internet for all your connected devices. As such, connectivity problems can often be solved by restarting your router. Of course, this isn’t a universal solution to all connectivity problems. Here are some of the most common problems and what you can do to fix them:
- Your device won’t connect to the internet
- Your internet connection may not be the problem at all — it could be your device. This may seem obvious, but make sure your issue is happening across all your devices. If you find that it’s only happening on your phone, your problem lies with that one device. If that’s the case, you should try restarting that device.
- If you’ve confirmed it’s not your device, rebooting your router should always be your next move. Simply unplug your router, wait about thirty seconds, then plug it back in.
- Your router and device indicate that you’re connected, but your internet isn’t working
- Make sure your device is connected to your personal network. Sometimes devices will automatically connect to a public network, especially if you’ve connected to one before.
- Restart or try a different internet browser (e.g. Internet Explorer, Chrome, Safari). Oftentimes, there’s a cache or network problem that you can fix just by closing out of all internet windows.
- If none of these solutions work, try restarting your device(s).
- A local outage
- If you think your area may be affected, ask a neighbor. If they’re also experiencing the issue, it’s time to reach out to your service provider. Don’t be afraid to ask for a credit on your next bill if this is the case.
Whether you’re looking to reconnect with friends, take advantage of online shopping deals, or finally see those adorable pictures of your family, the internet has something for everyone. And knowing that most internet providers can accommodate lower-income households, or at the very least, offer senior discounts, the fear of the cost of the service can be put aside. The real challenge is sitting down and devoting time, since the only way you can really learn how to use the internet is to experience it yourself. When you decide it’s time to make that move, you should be well ahead of the curve.